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were conceived with political considerations in mind. By successfully raiding remote, poorly defended facilities, the Viet Cong was able to embarrass the central government while demonstrating their own strength to the local population. The raids, furthermore, produced weapons which enabled the guerrillas to operate without total dependence on the North. By mid-1959 the security situation in the Republic of Vietnam had deteriorated to the point that much of the optimism formerly voiced by American and South Vietnamese officials had begun to disappear. The National Intelligence Estimate released in Washington during August accurately described the conditions which were settling over South Vietnam. This paper disclosed that the nation's economy was beginning to falter noticeably and that President Diem's government was growing increasingly unpopular. Furthermore, the estimate warned that harassment by the Viet Cong could be expected to intensify.5

As predicted, security conditions in South Vietnam did grow worse in the period following the August intelligence estimate. In the last four months of 1959 almost 200 assassinations were reported. In January 1960 another 96 civilians were killed by the Communists and in the following month the total reached 122. By the fall of I960 the Viet Cong were strong enough to begin ambushing regular ARVN units in several provinces. Like their raids on fixed installations, their ambush tactics were resulting in frequent and demoralizing defeats for the government. Like the raids, they were also providing weapons and ammunition for the growing guerrilla forces.

By I960 the government's inability to contain the disturbing malaise was beginning to produce political tensions in Saigon. On 26 April a group of 18 distinguished Vietnamese political figures, including a number of former cabinet members, issued a public demand for President Diem's resignation. Diem refused, eventually ordering the arrest of all who signed the manifesto.

A more serious effort to bring down the central government occurred in November when a group of military officers led by Colonel Nguyen Chanh Thi, the commander of a newly formed (1959) ARVN airborne brigade, staged an abortive coup d'etat in Saigon. Two companies of Vietnamese Marines joined Thi's rebellious paratroops.* But the power struggle, which began in the early morning hours of 11 November, ended when units loyal to President Diem converged on the capital. Realizing that the balance had been tipped against them, the coup leaders fled the country and the incident was closed. While it had failed to bring down the Diem government, Thi's attempted coup had revived the possibility of efforts by military leaders to seize control of the government and had injected a new element of uncertainty into South Vietnam's already unstable internal situation.

Two other danger signals flashed across Southeast Asia shortly after the abortive coup. In January 1961, Communist leaders in Hanoi announced that the National Liberation Front (NLF) had been founded in the South on 20 December I960 with the stated purpose of closely uniting the "various classes of the South Vietnamese patriotic population in the struggle against the Americans and Diem. . . . " 6 In truth, the NLF emerged as a fully developed Communist political organization imported from North Vietnam for the purpose of controlling, directing, and coordinating the insurgency south of the 17th parallel. For American officials, the announced establishment of the NLF signified that Ho Chi Minh's government had opted for the forceful reunification of North and South.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, another event led to further speculation that the war in Vietnam was about to enter a new phase. Backed by the North Vietnamese Army, Communist Pathet Lao forces seized control of the southeastern portion of the Laotian panhandle. Thus, the North Vietnamese obtained a protected corridor along South Vietnam's northwestern border through which men and materiel could be infiltrated to the South. The establishment of the NLF and the Communist takeover in so uthern Laos coincided roughly with approval in Washington of a comprehensive plan designed to help President Diem restore internal order. Designated the Counter-Insurgency Plan (CIP), this study had been ordered by President Elsenhower in early I960. Developed by Lieutenant General Lionel C. McGarr, U.S. Army, the officer who had relieved General Williams as MAAG Chief, the completed CIP reached the

*Vietnamese Marine participation in the abortive coup of 10 November 1960 is covered in greater derail elsewhere in this chapter.

 

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